Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Today we drink the Metropolitan cocktail, a brandy and sweet vermouth drink that is a great alternative to its whiskey based cousin the Manhattan

First though, I thought I'd share a rather interesting phenomenon that I've learned about myself.  I can no longer read horror novels.  I know, I know, this is a landmark issue for everyone involved. 

You see, I recently read "Heart Shaped Box", a book by Joe Hill.  I bought it a couple years ago, and it sat languishing on my shelf until about a month ago.  It was a relatively quick read, but it got me to thinking about how my literary tastes have changed over the years.

Joe Hill, if you didn't know, just so happens to be the son of famed horror writer Stephen King.  At one time, King was a writer I simply could not put down.  At the age of 15 or so, after reading The Stand, I was hooked.  King is gifted, and Hill, his son, is too.  I say all of the following with that in mind, namely, that Hill is a good writer.

But horror novels don't do it for me anymore.  The whole time I read Heart Shaped Box, I kept thinking that everything in the book was utterly preposterous.  Ghosts, demon ghosts?  No, no, no.  Ghosts just sound silly. 

It's funny too, I have felt this way about most horror movies for some time.  They've never been on my radar much to begin with, but apart from something like The Ring, which I loved, I find most horror movies to be comically bad.  Many plot lines are poorly thought out, the acting second rate, and the effects, if any, laughable.  I don't want to paint with too broad a brush, but the whole genre is unappealing at this point as a result of so many bad movies.

Horror novels, I thought, stood a chance where movies did not. It doesn't look to be though.  Interestingly, by way of comparison, I read Perdido Street Station last summer, a book that borders on horror (just borders though, and only slightly so) and loved it.  That'll be the furthest I'll go with the horror genre from now on though - something that just borders on horror, perhaps as a result of the bizarre sci-fi world in which the novel is situated.

Now that you've wasted a good 3 minutes reading this mindless banter, you deserve a cocktail. 

The Ultimate Bar Book, page 133


1 1/2 oz brandy
1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry

Stir the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Metropolitan is a very good alternative to a Manhattan or even a Sazerac.  It's got a strong flavor, particularly because of the bitters, which is why I think it matches well with these other two stellar cocktails.

The brandy makes the Metropolitan a little smoother than these two counterparts mentioned above.  Thankfully too, despite the sweet vermouths prominant addition to this drink, it isn't too sweet and isn't overpowering.  A little sweet vermouth can go a long way, and this is a fine amount.  In keeping with this idea, feel free to go easy on the simple syrup if you want a stronger cocktail. 

Also, a quick word on the amount of bitters to throw into a cocktail when a recipe calls for a dash or two.  Think liberally on this one.  Bitters were a major part of historic cocktails, and a dash is a couple strong shakes of the bottle, if not a little more.  Don't be shy.

Thursday - we drink the Bella, Bella.  Can't wait for it.  Appreciate the feedback from readers - thank you for your comments, suggestions and recipes - they've all been fantastic.  See you Thursday!

Monday, June 28, 2010

What We're Drinking This Week

This Saturday was an interesting one. 

First, I watched the US/Ghana game at a downtown bar, only to leave summarily disappointed.  It sucked.  It sucked bad.  The only thing worse than losing a soccer match, is losing a drawn out soccer match.  The last 20 minutes was brutal.  I think everyone knew the US didn't have a goal in them, but we had to stick around all the same, just to be sure.  I marched right out the bar door as soon as the whistle sounded.  I hate when my teams lose!

Then, after the game, I went to a beer festival, which was a great time.  JB and I met some friends who were already there, and tried some good, and not so good beers - but beers all the same.  The temperature was in the high 80s or low 90s, it was hot, and I would have chugged anything, beer or otherwise, so long as it was cold. 

[Sidebar: Breweries serving stouts during summer beer festivals should consider for a moment how terrible that idea happens to be.  I love stouts.  I love artisanally-made stout beers.  I appreciate the talent it takes to craft a really great stout.  But, just as I won't be eating a hot plate of lasagna in the 90 degree summer sun, I will also not be keen on drinking your 10-14% alcohol stout with much pleasure while beads of sweat run off my forehead.  Just, please, look at the calendar when making your decision as to what to bring to the beer festival.  Please.]

After the beer festival, we all went to the local German restaurant, ordering huge beers and food.  Admittedly, I could drink maybe a third of my beer.  It was probably around 32oz, and I had no room left in my stomach for beer.  I don't know about you, but my days of frat-styled beer drinking are long over.  I had to pass on any more hefeweizen.

Once we got home, expecting to go out thereafter, we found that Barca, the Official Mascot of The Amateur Mixologist, required our, ahem, attention.  The party most certainly stopped there. 

That was my Saturday.  Highs and lows.  This week however, should be all highs, or so I hope.  Why?  Well, because of what we're drinking this week of course!  We'll get to that in a minute, first:

Soundtrack of the Week:  Beach House, "Teen Dream" - This album came out in January, and is perfect for lazy summer days.  We just had the summer solstice after all, and it's time we start bumming around as nature intended.  "Teen Dream" is in fact dreamy.  It is ethereal, light, and airy, and a great album to throw on while doing anything summer related.  Anything.  Reading - check.  Yard work - check.  Walking the neighborhood - check.  Lying by the pool - check.  Great and versatile album - and, their best album yet, in my opinion.

What We're Drinking This Week

Tuesday:  Metropolitan - Brandy and sweet vermouth are the two key ingredients in this cocktail. It is similar to a Manhattan.

Thursday:  Bella, Bella - Gin, Campari, limoncello, and orange liqueur...I expect this to be stellar.

I'm going to try and squeeze in another part in our continuing series on Scotch, perhaps on Friday.  The Scotch series has proven popular, more popular than I would have expected, and I don't to disappoint its loyal audience.

I hope your Monday is fucking awesome.  Yeah, that's right, I dropped an f-bomb, because I want your Monday to be that good. 

See you tomorrow!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bourbon Sidecar

We are in the midst of an incredible sports tidal wave of action and excitement.  My buddy Danny provided me  with a the bootleg link to watch much of this week's sporting action.  Between the US soccer match, Italy losing, Isner/Mahut's epic tennis battle, and the US Open finale on Sunday, I can't remember the last time there were this many sporting events that I cared about going on at the same time.  It's fantastic!

And what should we do when watching sports?  Drink!  Yes, absolutely, we drink.  Today, we're drinking the Bourbon Sidecar, a perfect twist to an otherwise stellar cocktail.  The New York Times featured a story on the Bourbon Sidecar, and it's where we derived this recipe.  You can read the article at this link.

Bourbon Sidecar

2 oz bourbon
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz lemon juice

Shake over ice, serve.

For the Bourbon Sidecar, I'm using Woodford Reserve.  Feel free to us whatever you like.  The recipe calls for a sweeter bourbon - something like Maker's Mark.  I'd use whatever you've got on hand, it will likely work well in this cocktail.

I love this drink.  I love it for multiple reasons.  I love it because:

-  it has bourbon;

-  it is a version of the Sidecar;

-  it has discernable alcohol flavors;

-  it reminds me of other great whiskey based cocktails, like the sazerac;

-  there is a subtle bitters flavor in the drink, even though there are in fact no bitters

-  the lemon juice and whiskey pair together really well, debunking my previous thought that such a pairing was ill-fated;

This is an excellent cocktail.  This past weekend, I had some friends swing by on their way to a reunion.  I made them Fireman's Sours, and Sidecars.  They loved them both.  This would have been the unequivocal winner had it been made.  This is moving into the prime rotation of what I will now call "go-to cocktails."  You know what I mean - the cocktails in your arsenal that you have seared into you memory.  The cocktails that you know will impress, know others will enjoy, and know that will be requested again and again.

The classic Sidecar is one of my go-to cocktails.  It's easy to make, it's incredibly drinkable, and it's old.  I love old cocktails.  It's all the better to tell your guests that the cocktail in their hand pre-dates their grandparents.  That's a hell of a lot more interesting that handing them a vodka tonic.

Enjoy the Bourbon Sidecar, and enjoy the weekend!  We'll see you next week!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Liberty Cocktail

Today we drink the Liberty Cocktail.  In keeping with all things liberty, I think it's fitting that we make note of North Korea's drumming at the hands of Portugal in yesterday's World Cup match, 7-0. 

I know that the North Korea soccer squad has absolutely nothing to do with the Kim Jong Il regime, but it's telling that many of the die-hard North Korean fans are in fact paid Chinese actors.  I mean, you can't make this stuff up!  Someone paid actors, from another country, to cheer on the North Koreans!  That's crazy!

Sadly though, while such bizarre actions are funny, the situation in North Korea is no laughing matter.  North Korea is in dire poverty, with hundreds of thousands of its citizens starving, and dying of starvation every year.  It's interesting then to contrast the traits of North Korea with its counterparts in today's match, Portugal.

Portugal is in the midst of a financial crisis, though largely of its own creation.  Its debtload is incredibly high, its economy teetering on the brink of a Greek-styled collapse.  Despite this though, its citizens are not starving, are not dying of poverty.  Two countries in the midst of different turmoils, two turmoils that could not be more disparate from one another. 

The sharp contrast between the two countries is one of the great qualities of the World Cup.  Two countries with little in common, playing a game loved the world over. 

Let's move from two countries and their World Cup action to the Liberty Cocktail and some drinking action...

The Ultimate Bar Book, page 132

Liberty Cocktail

1 sugar cube
1 lime wedge
1oz Calvados
3/4oz light rum

Muddle the sugar cube and lime wedge in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass.  Fill with ice, pour in the liquor, and stir.

For this cocktail, I am not using a sugar cube.  Instead, I'm using my secret weapon, superfine sugar, which I delve into later in this post.

It's worth noting that I've finally warmed up to calvados.  It's taken some time, but I feel as though I've acquired a taste for it that I didn't have before.  Note though, that my bottle of calvados isn't the finest stuff available.

This drink though, is a good entry into the world of calvados, because the cocktail has a similar flavor profile as a caipirinha, something you've likely had before.  There's good reason for this of course, as muddled lime and sugar is the start of a good caipirinha.  The similarities do not end there though, as both drinks have a bit of a harsher start than something like a mojito

Just consider for a moment the sheer percentage of alcohol that accounts for the overall liquid contents in the drink.  Let's suppose that the lime wedge adds maybe 1/2oz of lime juice to the mix.  Even then, it's an overwhelming amount of alcohol-to-mixer combination.  Mind you, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's worth noting when determining its fit for a particular audience.  This might be a nice refresher for the males at a BBQ, but it may be a tad strong for the ladies' tastes (of course, if a lady likes a strong drink, by all means, have at it).

Something unique about this drink is the fact that the lime and sugar bring out the apple flavors of the calvados.  There is a nice lingering apple finish that is totally different than any of the other calvados-based cocktails that we've tried.

And now, the secret weapon: Superfine Caster Sugar.

You can pick up one of these specimens on Amazon, as I've done - 2 3lb cans runs about $28.  This is a very good investment if you're making drinks that require sugar - alcoholic drinks or simply iced tea.  This stuff will melt away even under cold conditions.  A sugar cube, as the recipe above calls for, is a fickle animal.  You may be able to dissolve half of the sugar cube, but the remaining sugar will simply lie in the bottom of the glass.  With superfine sugar though, you won't have that problem. 

Tomorrow - the US plays Algeria.  I see a 3-1 win for the U.S. in this game, with a more aggressive first-half showing than we've seen to date.

Until later in the week, when we try the Bourbon Sidecar - cheers!

For more cocktail content and my attempts to be witty, check us out @IMakeDrinks on Twitter.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What We're Drinking This Week

Quick Thank You

Before we dive into the week, I want to quickly give a thank you to the guys at West Coast Taco trucks in Broad Ripple.  It was late, around 2:45 or 3am on Saturday morning, when I was grabbing one of their 3/$5 deals.  I was happily enjoying my tacos when the skies opened up.  At first, it seemed like a harmless little downpour.  I stood under the taco truck awning without too much trouble.

Then, the harmless downpour turned into a monsoon.  It was ridiculous.  I made an executive decision to walk into the taco truck, unannounced, and hang out.  Thankfully, the guys in the truck were totally cool with me doing so (at least, they pretended to be cool with it).  Me, a completely random stranger to them, invading their taco truck.  They were extremely gracious, and kind for letting me in at the time.  Seems like it was 45 minutes later before I could walk home through flooded streets.  It was fun though, all in all. 

Here is some more information on their stellar operation:

West Coast Tacos, Facebook Page

West Coast Tacos, Twitter

Sports, Sports, Sports, Sports

In unrelated news, sometimes there is just too much great sporting action on television.  Now is one such time. 

I almost wish all other sporting events would pause for the weeks of the World Cup, so that I can take in all soccer matches, and not have to worry about missing anything else.  It doesn't work that way though, unfortunately. 

This past weekend, there were numerous entertaining World Cup matches, as well as the US Open.  I love championship golf, and with a backdrop like Pebble Beach, it's can't-miss in my book.  Many find golf boring to watch on TV; I am not one of those people.

So Graeme McDowell was the big winner this weekend, capturing the first US Open for an European in 40 years.  He played well, he played consistently.  Dustin Johnson however, the man who was leading going into the final round, played unreasonably badly.  He cracked up.  Poor guy.  I felt for him up until the 4th hole when he pulled out driver (if I remember correctly, b/c i think it was the 4th) and threw caution to the wind.  There is risk taking and then there is stupidity.  Johnson was acting with the latter.

And, Wimbledon starts today.

Soundtrack of the Week:

Mumford and Sons, Sigh No More

Think rock folk on this one.  I'm not a fan of folk music generally, and at times this disc sounds like classic folk, and bluegrass too, another genre I'm not too keen on - however - this is a great great album.  Genres be damned!  Sigh No More is perfect for a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning. 

It'll make you wistful, and longing for summer days past.  It's a hell of a disc.  And, there are funny moments, like when Marcus Mumford's British accents floats above a banjo.  For some reason, I'm greatly amused by this.  Banjo + British accent = hilarity.

What We're Drinking This Week

Liberty Cocktail - The Calvados has been found!!  Yay!  Somehow, I missed it.  It was tucked behind a large bottle of tequila.  I should have been able to see it, but I didn't.

Bourbon Sidecar - The New York Times posted a great little recipe this past week that we're going to check out.  It's a take on the classic Sidecar, one of my favorite cocktails - only in the place of cognac/brandy, we'll be using whiskey.

Should be a strong, to quite strong week, here at The Amateur Mixologist.  We'll be making the Liberty Cocktail for a post tomorrow, and we'll make the Bourbon Sidecar for a post on Thursday or Friday.

Until then, cheers!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Scotch Part II - Islay

First things first:  We were planning on drinking the Liberty Cocktail this week, but it was not to be.  Somehow, someway, I managed to lose my bottle of calvados.  I know, I know, it sounds crazy right - how does a person lose a bottle of alcohol.  Your guess is as good as mine.  I hunted for it too.  My guess is that it'll turn up over the weekend, in which case we'll make it first thing next week.

In the meantime, we're going to dive into Part II of our ongoing scotch series.  Today, we're going to discuss one of the main production regions for scotch, Islay, an island off the southwest coast of Scotland. 


Islay (pronounced "eye-la") is a small island, with only 239 square miles of space.  By way of comparison, Rhode Island is approximately 6 times bigger, with around 1,500 square miles.  In other words, Islay is tiny.  But what Islay lacks in land mass, it makes up for in its quality production of notoriously peaty scotches.

Each of the scotch regions is known for its particular contribution of scotch flavor profiles that are typically found in its scotches contents.  For Islay, it is peaty-ness.  What do I mean by peaty-ness?  Smoke, smoke and more smoke.

Islay happens to hold an inordinate amount of peat on its landmass.  Peat is an organically created bunch of partially decayed vegetation.  It doesn't sound too exciting, right?  But, in much of the world, peat is used as a fuel source, and Islay is one such place that has effectively used peat fires to dry the malted barley used to make scotch.

This is what cut peat looks like
These peat fires, drying the malted barley, impart the classic Islay flavor profile.  For lay people, it's "smokey", for scotch drinkers, it's "peaty."

There are 8 producers of scotch on Islay: 
  • Ardbeg
  • Lagavulin
  • Laphroaig
  • Bowmore
  • Bruichladdich
  • Bunnahabhain
  • Caol Ila
  • Kilchoman
I've consumed scotches from 6 of the above, not having tried Bruichladdich, nor the recently producing Kilchoman.  The others though all produce quality stuff.  But where to begin with so many options?

First, I suggest shopping at a quality liquor store in your area.  I know it seems like a rather obvious suggestion, but if you're at your local Kroger or Winn-Dixie, the stock boy won't know zip about picking out a good scotch.

Second, ask to taste something, if it's available.  Not all stores have scotches available to taste, but many do - ask, and sample.

Third, with Islay scotches, start with something that isn't mindblowingly peaty.  In other words, don't start with Laphroaig.  If we were to create a 10-point scale of peatyness, with 10 being an extremely peaty, smoky scotch, Laphroaig cranks out 11's.  They're great, I love them (I have the 10 and 15 year old at the house), but, their bottlings are probably not the best place to start if you're new to scotches, particularly peaty scotches.

Check out Bunnahabhain's 12 year old, or Caol Ila's 12 year old.  Both are nicely peaty, with a great balance of flavor.  On the 10 point scale, they're both about a 6 or so.  For the uninitiated, this will be plenty of smoke.

My final thoughts are related to the World Cup.

My prediction is that the US wins its match today 2-0 over Slovenia.  Also, after having watched Argentina the last couple of games, I'm astonished that this is the same team that barely qualified for the tournament.  They barely qualified!  In other news, Spain is underachieving.  Again.  And, the entire German side has cropped hair.  Shocking.

Have a great weekend everyone - see you all next week.  I'm off to hunt down the bottle of calvados.  Cheers!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Piña Colada & What We're Drinking This Week

So much to talk about, what with the World Cup, the NBA Finals and unexpectedly decent weather this weekend.

First, the World Cup.

The United States side secured a 1-1 draw against England on Saturday, a great result, though not always a great game to watch.  The US were bunched up far too often, played the long ball in the place of steady progression, and generally looked outclassed.  Through it all though, they somehow managed to tie a team that is absolutely stacked with talent.

England's middle is arguably the finest in the tournament, with Gerrard and Lompard.  Their main striker, Wayne Rooney, is probably the 4th best footballer in the world behind Messi, Kaká, and Christiano Ronaldo.  England's defense, though aged, is world class, with Cole and John Terry.  The point being that England should be killing opponents.  Somehow though, each year, they underperform.  This may be the best England squad in a generation, or perhaps ever, but at least on Saturday, they could not produce.

The rest of the tournament has been a bit ho-hum, largely because of low scoring matches.  Germany v. Australia produced 4 goals, the most of any of the games this far, though the match was incredibly one-sided, and Australia was the victim of an abysmal red card leaving their squad a man down.  I heard one commentator explain that the low scores are the likely result of all the advanced planning by the coaches, and that future games will yield a bit more uncertainty and a bit more scoring. 

All told, the World Cup has been fantastic.  I've been recording each game, and plan to watch the entire tournament if at all possible.  The only problem is keeping the scores at bay until I get home.  I have co-workers and the internet to fend off.

In addition to the World Cup, the NBA Finals are 5 games deep, with the Celtics up 3-2 over the Lakers. 

I don't have a rooting interest in either squad, though I don't particularly care for Boston's collection of great players from other teams.  I don't think guys like Garnett and Ray Allen are true Celtics.  Maybe that's unfair of me, but I can't shake the idea of their last couple seasons being nothing more than the mad-dash to the finish a la Malone and Gary Payton.  In any event, last night's Game 5 was a lot of fun to watch.  Pierce, a true Celtic through and through, was hitting clutch shots, while Kobe did everything he could to keep the Lakers in the game.  Kobe's 3rd quarter was brilliant.  And now it's back to LA for Game 6.

Soundtrack of the Week:  Blitzen Trapper Destroyer of the Void - Brand new disc, just released, by an excellent band from the Pacific Northwest.  Their last album Furr was one of the finest efforts of the last few years.  Destroyer is a great next effort.  At times they sound a 1970's rollicking southern rock and roll band, and at other times they can be ethereal and sweet.  I saw them live back in the fall, and will be seeing them a couple times later this year.  Highly recommend this album, and if you don't already have Furr, go get it. 

What We're Drinking This Week

-  Piña Colada - This drink needs no introduction.  Read below, you'll see I was drinking it before I could throw a garnish in the mix.

-  Liberty Cocktail - Calvados and light rum based cocktail - not sure how this one will turn out, but we'll give it a go.

Piña Colada

If you've travelled to Puerto Rico, you know of this drink's prominance.  It's the official drink of the island.  It was purportedly made to be the signature drink at a hotel in Old San Juan.  Which, incidentally, if you haven't been, is a must-visit.  Old San Juan is a really vibrant and beautiful part of the city, and its incredibly easy to get to the island from the US.  You don't even need your passports. 

In any event, the drink consists of rum, pineapple juice, and coconut cream.  Coconut cream is a made with coconut milk, and is a really sweet concoction that you could eat by the spoonful if given the opportunity.  I made the drink in the kitchen, as the dining room table was occupied by work related stuffs.

The Ultimate Bar Book, 272

Piña Colada

2oz Puerto Rican light rum
6oz pineapple juice
2oz coconut cream
Pineapple spear
Maraschino cherry

Shake the liquid ingredients vigorously with ice.  Strain into a large ice-filled wineglass.  Garnish with the pineapple spear and cherry.

I had to pull out the large shaker for this one.  There is a lot of liquid in one of these drinks, and I was going to be making a couple of them anyway (JB wanted one as well).  One word of advice - be sure to mix or shake the contents of the coconut cream can, because I assure you it will not be mixed particularly well when you open it.  You won't make a bad drink if you start skimming off the top right away, but, it might be a little sweet.  Dip a spoon in the can, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

You'll notice there is no garnish in any of the photos.  As mentioned above, I started drinking before I had a chance to add the pineapple or cherry.  It was just too good, particularly after all the warm weather we've had of late.  It was a perfect end to the day, though I could have added far more rum to the mix if I had wanted.  The recipe above is great, don't get me wrong, but don't expect to taste much of the rum.  You have 2 ounces of rum battling against 8 ounces of other liquid for positioning.  This is one of those drinks where you can tip the bartender's arm and pour a couple more ounces and it'll still be a great drink. 

Also, you're probably not going to drink a ton of these drinks because the coconut cream is a bit heavy after a while.  It's delicious, but one is enough.  Maybe make it a good one - throw in an additional ounce or two of rum.

Thank you to the recent e-mailers of late, appreciate your thoughts and input.  Have a great week - and if you can't get enough of me on here, remember that we have a Twitter account that features more links to interesting cocktail stories and information: @IMakeDrinks


Friday, June 11, 2010

Scotch - Part I

Scotch is an alcohol deserving of its own blog, let alone its own post.  Because there is so much to talk about, we're going to make this a multi-part series.  Today, we cover some of the basics - scotch's ingredients, a brief mention of its regions, and I wax poetic about my feelings on scotch.

This blog is a cocktail blog, but its primary role should not keep us from exploring other interests (see our Side Project #1 - Chocolate Chip Cookies).  In this case, by other interests, I mean scotch.

Scotch is my drink of choice.  My scotch drinking has lessened a bit of late.  Most evenings, if I'm making a drink for the site, I'm probably not indulging in a glass of scotch as well.  I'd love to get drunk on a Tuesday, who wouldn't, but this isn't college anymore, and my body likes to be up at 6am if not sooner to hit the gym.  Multiple drinks would only impede my schedule.

It's sad too, because I love scotch.  I love its warmth, I love the variety between bottles and their time spent in casks aging, I love the differences between the regions in which scotch is made, I love the instant connection you can have with another random scotch drinker - the shared bond of a particular alcohol somehow imparting something more significant on two people than the proximity of their seats.

In preparing for this post, I looked through my 6 or so bottles of scotch that I currently have in my stash.  Many of them are near empty.  It's almost as though I can't bring myself to finish the bottle off, as if I believe the last few fingers of scotch will always remain there, no matter how often I return to the well.

I suppose the first place we should start with scotch is The Scotch Whisky Order of 1990.  Give it a look, it's fascinating - I've linked to the Order here.

So what makes scotch, well, scotch?  Taken from Paragraph 3 of the Order:
    Definition of Scotch whisky     3.    For the purpose of the Act "Scotch whisky" means whisky—
       (a) which has been produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been—
         (i) processed at that distillery into a mash;
         (ii) converted to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and
         (iii) fermented only by the addition of yeast;
       (b) which has been distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8 per cent so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production;
       (c) which has been matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres, the period of that maturation being not less than 3 years;
       (d) which retains the colour, aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation; and
       (e) to which no substance other than water and spirit caramel has been added.
Interesting stuff, eh?  I love it when an alcohol is so important that it requires a legislative enactment of its ingredients.

So now that we know what's in it, where does it come from?  Scotland of course, but I mean, where in Scotland?

There are 4 main regions in Scotland, all of which impart various flavors and aromas to a scotch from the region:

- Highland
- Lowland
- Speyside
- Islay

Campbeltown is often included in the list of scotch regions, but the four above are what you're going to primarily run into when purchasing scotch.

I know this long post hasn't taken us to drinking any scotch as of yet - which is unfortunate.  Know though that we will certainly be drinking scotch in the future.  For now, and for the weekend, go buy a bottle of Glenmorangie's The Original - a fantastic 10 year old that won't run any more than $35 or so.  In fact, Glenmorangie just lowered many of its price points in order to compete with the vodka and tequila producers of the world - so you may be able to find it cheaper still.

In our next scotch post, we'll talk about the differences between the regions, a few of my personal favorites, and talk about whether drinking it on the rocks is kosher.

Have a splendid weekend my friends - see you all next week!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Jack Rose, Revisit

As long time readers may recall, the 5th cocktail we ever produced on The Amateur Mixologist was the Jack Rose.  It didn't go well. 

At the time, I figured that my dislike of the cocktail had something to do with the powdered sugar in the recipe, though my aversion to powdered sugar was debunked, in a way, by the successful inclusion of powdered sugar in the Fireman's Sour. 

If the powdered sugar wasn't the contributing factor, perhaps the calvados that I had purchased was too low-rent for this, or any other cocktail (the jury is still out on this one, as my calvados was, and is still, suspect).

No matter what the reason, the first go-round of the Jack Rose was a complete and utter failure.

Why revisit it, you ask?  Good question. 

I received a thought-provoking e-mail from reader Mark in Minnesota, who made some helpful suggestions about the drink - namely, was my lime juice may have been out of date, and perhaps more pointedly, that should I use a fresh squeezed lime in the place of its bottled equivalent.  All good comments and suggestions. 

I'm a big fan of bottled lime or lemon juice.  But, it has to be real lime or lemon juice.  None of the fake-lime looking squirt bottle, and Rose's lime juice doesn't count either (it's sweetened lime juice, a wholly different than real lime juice).  Bottled lime juice though offers consistency that real limes may not provide.  It's kind of like buying frozen peas - you're guaranteed a consistently good and fresh product compared to the non-frozen equivalent.

Today, we're going to revisit the Jack Rose, with an entirely new recipe.  And, we're going to try it with fresh squeezed lime juice, and we're going to try it with bottled lime juice (non-expired, of course).

And where are we getting our recipe?  Wikipedia.  I know, I know.  Wikipedia can sometimes be about as resourceful as the neighborhood blowhard.  I feel though that it's a good fit for finding cocktail recipes.  At a minimum, it can't be worse that what we used the last time around.

Jack Rose Wikipedia Entry, with recipe

3 parts applejack
2 parts lemon or lime juice
2 dashes grenadine

Traditionally shaken into a chilled glass, garnished, and served straight up.

First things first, I want to point out how different this recipe is from the original recipe used.  The original recipe called for a full barspoon of powdered sugar, whereas this recipe contains no powdered sugar.  Also, there is a bit more juice in this recipe than in the prior recipe.  Back to our broadcast....

Test Group # 1 - Bottled lime juice

I am happy to report that this is night and day compared to my first experience.  This cocktail is tart, but just sweet enough to be not merely palatable, but tasty. 

Whereas I said that the first Jack Rose tasted as though it was made in the backyard of a meth lab, this cocktail tastes as though it was made at a country club pool.  It's warm weather material, to be sure - on a hot summer day, this cocktail will cool you off and isn't too sweet.  I also made too large a drink for my own good.  As you may be able to tell in the photo, I used 3oz of calvados, 2oz of lime juice and about half an ounce of grenadine. 

Two of these boys and you're going to be housed in short order.  Moving on!

Test Group # 2 - Fresh squeezed lime juice

Boy, this is an interesting result.  I like both cocktails.  I think they are both very good, and certainly far better than the first effort.  But, they taste vastly different from one another. 

Where the first cocktail was pleasantly tart, this version, with real limes, is a little more subtle, a little more nuanced.  In some ways, it tastes as though the limes are a tad under ripe, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  The limes are imparting a great flavor into the cocktail that wasn't there with the bottled stuff.

Was bottled lime juice bad?  No, quite to the contrary in fact.  It was exactly as I've believed most bottled lime juice (of any quality anyway) to be - it was consistent. 

You'll notice too, that I made a small drink, thankfully.

I think the take away is that fresh limes, if available, provide unique nuance that isn't available out of even the best bottled lime juice.  But, don't pass on a cocktail simply because fresh lime juice is not available.  High quality bottled stuff is good, and makes good drinks, but I'm all for nuance, and probably preferred the freshy-fresh over the bottled stuff on this particular occasion.

Thank you to Mark in Minnesota for piquing my interest in the Jack Rose once again, and giving me a reason for this revisit.  The Jack Rose is a winner.  The first recipe I used though, was not a winner, it was dreadful.

Until Friday, cheers!

Monday, June 7, 2010

What We're Drinking This Week

Unfortunately, Blogger was down for this entire day, until just now, late in the afternoon.  As such, I couldn't let you know of this week's plans.  This week should be a fun one, but before getting into our drinking schedule, I'll tell you briefly about the weekend.

I was at a wedding in Detroit for my good friends Jeremy and Samantha.  The wedding was outstanding, and everyone had a fantastic time.  The whole weekend was held at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel, in downtown Detroit.  It is a beautiful hotel, with a couple stellar rooms that they left intact during its renovation (it was where the ceremony and reception were held, respectively).  And, the bride and groom spared no expense in making it a memorable weekend - the food was great, the drinks were great, and the pace of everything was great.  A great weekend, all around.

In honor of their occasion, we'll be checking out their signature cocktail, the Perfect Pear Martini, some time down the road.  The hotel's version of the drink this Saturday was a tad different than the version Jeremy and Sam first tasted, so we're going to nail down a recipe before presenting it to you.

Soundtrack Of The Week:  Crystal Castles "Crystal Castles."  This is by no means a new album, it came out in March of 2008, but there are a couple songs on here that are well worth your attention.  Some of the electronica on the disc is admittedly hard for me to enjoy, but there are some incredible songs that are worth your time and $.  In particular, download these songs, and you'll be listening to them over and over: "Untrust Us", "Magic Spells", and "Vanished."  Great beats - a stellar combination of sound.

What We're Drinking This Week:

- Jack Rose revisit.  My first experience with the cocktail wasn't great.  In fact, it was arguably the worst drink I've had on the blog to date.  But, I was convinced by our reader friend Mark to give it another chance.  So that's what we're doing.  I'm hopeful that ol' Jack Rose and I are best buddies after this round.

- Scotch.  We're going to talk about my favorite alcohol, and probably find at least one cocktail that features this amazing nectar of the gods.

This is yet another abbreviated week, but, we're going to make it a good one!  Until we drink again, salud!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cucumber Cooler

So, while writing this post on this random Wednesday evening, I happened to be watching the Detroit Tigers baseball game, which was in the 9th inning.  Their pitcher, Armando Galarraga, was on the final out of a perfect game.  He had one more batter to face.  He would have been the 21st pitcher to pitch a perfect game in all of baseball history.

But it was not to be.  Not because he didn't deserve it, but rather, because of a bad call.  The play in question, a play in which Galarraga covered first as the first baseman was pulled off the bag to field the hit, wasn't even close.  The baserunner was out by a full step.

It's sad.  Galarraga deserved the perfect game.  This is likely to haunt him for the rest of his life.  The ump too though will suffer.  This game, this call, will haunt him for the rest of his life.  It's terrible for everyone involved.

Interestingly enough, unbeknownst to me, I was watching the Indians feed.  I didn't realize it at the time, I thought I was watching the Tigers feed.  The Indians announcers, the opposing team's announcers, were baffled by the call.  I can't imagine how the Tigers broadcast must have sounded (actually, I switched over once I realized I was on the Indians broadcast, and let's just say that the Tigers announcers were pissed).

In better news though, we're a mere 9 days away from the United State v. England in the World Cup.  We'll delve more fully into the World Cup next week, as the group play gets underway.  The US team just arrived in South Africa, and the build-up is getting to me, bit by bit.  I've watched the Nike ad about 100 times by now, and each time I get really excited to see the US players (and Cesc too, obviously, throwing aside the newspaper).  If you haven't seen it, it's worth a couple minutes of your time.  Check it out, here

Today, we're drinking the Cucumber Cooler!  Perfect for the summer:

Recipe taken from Hendrick's Gin website, available here.

Cucumber Cooler

1 1/2 oz Hendrick's Gin
3/4 oz St. Germain
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz simple syrup
soda water
5 mint leaves

Place all ingredients but soda water in a long glass. Muddle gently. Add ice and top with soda water. Add a cucumber garnish.

This is a superb, refreshing, summer cocktail.  What exactly makes this cucumber-y enough to be called a Cucumber Cooler is admittedly a bit lost on me.  Sure, there is a cucumber garnish.  And, if you were to add the garnish to the mix, like dropping it in the drink, there would be an added cucumber flavor.  I will say that eating the cucumber garnish, as I have in this particular instance, is a nice compliment to the drink.  Know though that there isn't much of a cucumber flavor to the drink itself, as the name would suggest.

But no matter what you call the drink, it's good, and can easily be compared to other summer favorites like the Mojito and the Tom Collins - drinks that offer cooling refreshment by way of both ice and the addition of soda water. 

The mint leaves offer a nice addition as well, providing aromatics at the end of the drink that make for a quality finish.  Make a big batch of Cucumber Coolers for your next BBQ, or just make a couple for you and your better half.  You'll enjoy the cocktail, and it may give you a reason to purchase Hendrick's and St. Germain, two excellent bottles that should be in your collection.

Unfortunately, this is an abbreviated week due to the holiday and my impending departure to Detroit (Rock City) for my friends' wedding. 

Coming up next week...

Next week we're going to delve into some reader suggestions.  We've received some quality ideas recently from you all, and it's time to share the ideas with the masses.  We'll also revisit the Jack Rose, so look alive on that one.  As always, we here at the Amateur Mixologist appreciate your readership, comments, suggestions and feedback - and look forward to drinking with you all again soon.

Until then, cheers!  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Today we're drinking the Margarita, a classic tequila-based cocktail.  You've probably had them a hundred times, and as more bars and restaurants serve them from scratch, you've probably noticed an improved quality to the Margarita's you're drinking.

So where did the Margarita come from?  You'll never believe this, but there are conflicting stories as to its origins.  Shocking, I know.

There's the one about a Dallas socialite who wanted to create a cocktail for a pool party - her name of course, was Margaret, and her nickname was Margarita.  Another story involves a showgirl named Marjorie King, who was allergic to all alcohol but tequila, and the sweet-ol' bartender went about creating a cocktail she could enjoy.  And finally, one story involves a Mexican bartender who forgot how to mix a certain drink, only remembering that it contained Cointreau.  As a result, the bartender threw whatever he could think of in a glass, including Cointreau - and booya, the Margarita.  All of these stories are probably bunk, but they're fun and perhaps with sharing at a cocktail party.

In any event, now that the non-definitive history of the margarita is out of the way, indulge me for a moment while I share a couple photos from Manhattan that I took this past weekend. 

First, this weekend was the time of year in which the sun sets directly in line with the streets.  The main night this was to occur was Friday, but it was cloudy as hell that day, and no sun appeared on the horizon.  Thankfully though, it improved with the weekend.  This was taken at 14th and 3rd Ave (and I thought it was particularly interesting because people flooded the street for photos - hence the reason a guy is standing there directly in front of me):

The second photo is from Sunday, when JB and I loafed around Central Park for a while.  We sat across this guy for a few minutes, and I caught a couple nice moments of him, mid-nap.

Alright, let's drink!

The Ultimate Bar Book, page 290

Classic Margarita

2 lime wedges
Kosher salt
1 1/2 oz premium silver tequila
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz Cointreau

Rub a wedge of lime around the rim of a chilled margarita glass, and salt the rim.  Fill the prepared glass with ice, shake the liquid ingredients vigorously with ice.  Strain into prepared glass.  Squeeze the remaining lime wedge over the drink, and drop it in. 

This is a nice little margarita recipe, though I don't think all of its directions are entirely necessary.  First, I don't think you need to place ice in the glass, and second, I don't think you need to drop the lime into the cocktail.  If the cocktail glass is chilled, the ice will only melt away the fine flavor of the 3 main ingredients.  I suppose if you love lime, you could add the slice to the cocktail, but it's superfluous. 

Having said that, I think this is a excellent combination that yields a flavorful and tasty margarita.  It is tart, sweet, and delicious.  The balance of contents is excellent, with each providing a nice contribution of flavor.

Unfortunately, far too many people drink margaritas made from a mix.  Stop, please.  Margaritas may be the worst of the available mixes out there.  Some drinks lend themselves well to mixes (bloody mary mixes come to mind), though the vast majority do not.  Margaritas do not. 

A made-from-scratch margarita is extremely easy to throw together.  And, you have the benefit of adding a little more lime juice, a little more Cointreau, or a little more tequila - whatever is your preference.  The alternative, a mix, is just sugar on top of sugar.  Why drink inferior cocktails when the good stuff is as easy as this?

Enjoy this one.  Really, I mean it.  Enjoy this one at a BBQ, a dinner, anything.  This works in any environment.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Week of May 29, 2010

A bit of a late start here at The Amateur Mixologist this week.  I got back home around 11:15pm last night from the weekend's travel, and was in no shape for drinking. 

But, fear not - we'll be drinking two cocktails in this abbreviated week, one of which you'll be all-too familiar with, and the other, not so much.

First though, let's recap the weekend:

Dario Franchitti wins the Indianapolis 500.  I like him; I like his Scottish accent.  I hope he continues to win, so that we can listen to him talk.  And, Ashley Judd. 

Memorial Day.  To all our vets who have served, who currently serve, and those families that have made sacrifices in order that the rest of us be free - thank you.  We could raise our glasses in toast from here to eternity, and it wouldn't be enough. 

Photo blatently ripped from STL Post-Dispatch, all credit to their photographers.

Pujols hits 3 home runs in win over Cubs on Saturday.  He is good.

Stephen Strasburg debuts June 8, in a home game against the Pirates.  It's a little Inside Baseball to post this, I know, but Strasburg is likely to be one of the greats, provided he stays healthy and some calamity does not befall him. 

Soundtrack of the WeekFree Energy "Stuck on Nothing."  I was fortunate to see them at the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night, and they were great.  The album is a bit 70's revival rock and roll, and fun to listen to.  The band is comprised of former members of Hocky Night, a solid indie-band.  Good summer music.  Also, on Saturday night, a band called Jukebox the Ghost opened.  I had never heard their music prior to that evening, and they too were great (incredibly talented piano/singer frontman). 

Book Selection of the Week:  Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill.  Basic plot:  Dutchman moves to the States to follow his wife, who got a job in Manhattan.  The marriage suffers, and the Dutchman meets a curious gentleman with a dream of bringing cricket to the United States.  It is a melancholy book, one of self-discovery.  It's good, and not particularly long - maybe 270 pages.  And, this is the second book I've read in the last month or so that has featured a bad marriage as a main plot driver ("Safe from the Neighbors" being the other).

So what are we drinking this week?

- Tomorrow:  Margarita.  Listen, it's summer, it's hot weather - you're going to need something to cool you off.  This is a classic cocktail, that when done right, can't be beat.

- Thursday:  Cucumber Cooler.  You're going to LOVE this one.  Suggested by our friends over at Would I Buy It Again, we're going to look into a cucumber cocktail.  And I'm telling you, this is a top drink.  Don't miss it.

Friday is another travel day - for my close friends Jeremy and Samantha are getting married in Detroit (Rock City) this Saturday.   Exciting days ahead...until then my friends, drink well, and drink often.  Cheers!
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